Posted by S.E. Sinkhorn | Friday, January 14, 2011
Today's Tune: All I Want Is You
Okay, slightly-embarrassing confession time: I am an unadulterated Mean Girls fan. It may not be alterna-cool-edgy of me to admit that sometimes I enjoy pop culture, BUT I DO AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU JUDGE ME FOR IT. Ahem.
Nevertheless, I have paused to think about why I enjoy the film so much. The most obvious reason is because it's funny. Really funny. So many repeatable lines. I WANT MY PINK SHIRT BACK.
Delving a little deeper, I enjoy this movie because it both pokes fun at and revels in the Mean Girl stereotype. We all know this character. She's beautiful, she's popular, she's rich, and she is an epic bitch. But this movie goes beyond just making her into the villain, and the protagonist into the poor, sweet, nerdy outcast who destroys her and Stands Up For Unpopulars Everywhere. This movie flips roles. The Mean Girl becomes the victim of cruelty, and the Nice Girl becomes the thing she's supposed to hate. Mean Girls isn't really about "the good girl" and "the mean girl." It shows us the bullies as main characters. It shows us we're all capable of nastiness, and we're all capable of getting over it.
The Mean Girl is a stock character in YA fiction. She's the character we toss into the mix to make our protagonist look better by comparison, to cause instant tension, and to give our readers someone to hate. There's rarely ever a good reason for her to act like such a raging hosebeast; she just does. She's overused. She's boring. She's flat. And she deserves better.
If we decide to use a Mean Girl in our fiction, we have to ask ourselves one question: why. Why is she mean? What is her motivation? Human beings don't exist in the black or the white. Even the biggest jerk you knew in school had more going on in the background than met the eye. And please, please, let's find a reason other than "she's mean because she's sooooooo jealous of the pretty, smart protagonist." So overdone.
This is part of fleshing out our characters. It's not enough to have a three-dimensional protagonist if the other characters only serve as props. Why is your mean girl mean? If you want to create a truly memorable character, create a bully that people can actually sympathize with. That's powerful writing.